Lei Feng is a Chinese role model and an example of servant leadership

March 27, 2012

March 5th is “Learn from Lei Feng Day”. A self-sacrificing soldier, Lei is celebrated in China as a role model of selflessness and modesty. Similarities with Servant Leadership are noted

Many LWD subscribers will be unaware of the story of Lei Feng and the esteem he is held in China. Lei’s fame arises from the days of Mao when he became a popular icon for the ideal soldier as ordinary hero. His fame remains today although the State now is opening up debate on such historical stories, for example through social media sites.

The Chinese social media site Sina Weibo is now providing an English language service

Sina Weibo correspondents were quoted extensively in a “China Daily article on Lei Feng recently [March 5th 2012] on the 49th anniversary of his death.

“While Lei Feng’s name still resonates in China and elsewhere, some begin to wonder whether the spirit of the Good Samaritan is still relevant in an age of intense materialistic pursuit and whether the image of helping grandmas cross the road is somewhat outdated.”

@Guaiguaideayuan Radio host at Zaozhuang Station:

There is nothing wrong with Lei Feng Spirit. It’s not the fault of those “Lei Fengs” (those who follow Lei’s example) that the spirit is now challenged and even doubted by some. It’s the reality and people’s perception of the reality: we want more from the others and from the society, and when the desires can’t be fully satisfied, we blamed something or somebody [other than ourselves].

@Wenxinfoshan Sina Weibo user

Today the new definition for Lei Feng Spirit should be as follows: 1. Try to do good, no matter how small it is; 2, try to be responsible; 3, try to be independent and do regular self-introspection; 4, try to put yourself in the others’ shoes, as often as possible; 5, and try to persevere in everything you do.

Global values and ordinary heroes

Western readers tend to reject stories from the time of Mao as State propaganda. There is even debate about the very existence of Lei Feng as portrayed officially. We can liken this to Western ‘ordinary heroes’ such as Robin Hood whose existence is challenged but whose story is accepted and romanticised.

Xinghuaqi, the biographer of Lei Feng puts it this way:

We promote Lei Feng Spirit because Lei Feng is an “ordinary” hero. His “heroics” were done in his daily life, and we can do the same if we wish. His spirit isn’t about communism or socialism – nothing ideological – but about the basic human nature. If everyone could follow Lei Feng’s path, the community will become much healthier.

The similarity to the work of Robert Greenleaf on servant leadership is clear. According to Dilemmas of Leadership, [p 190] servant leadership is essentially about “the development of followers into morally responsible and autonomous leaders”. This idea cuts across 20th century leadership “maps” which place emphasis on “the fallacy of the industrial paradigm” [p 239] and subsequent ethical dilemmas.